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Soviet Integration : Causes of the Collapse

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the doctrine has endeavored to find its causes. Many explanatory elements of the collapse have been proposed, among them we can cite in particular the inefficient economic system (due to the use of a planned economy), the fluctuation of oil prices in the 1980s (main source of state budget in those years) or even the policy of containment of the United States (notably via the stagnation of the Soviet army in Afghanistan).

But a key element of the Soviet collapse was above all the national question. Vladimir Putin will go so far as to say that the Bolsheviks were responsible for the future break-up of the Soviet Union when they granted independence to the Republics in 1917-1919.

In fact, if we study it more closely, we can realize that the collapse of the Soviet Union is due to the combination of all these factors taken together, which led to a desire for independence in the Soviet Republics. In other words, the decline of the communist model over the decades was such that at the end of the 1980s, the Soviet Republics saw only one way to save themselves from the multiple crises crossing the Union: the recourse to nationalist policies and the obtaining of their independence.

But if this fact is the conclusion of the process of disintegration of the Soviet Union, it was in no way inevitable, because it is difficult to imagine that these desires for independence would have succeeded if the right reforms had been taken at the right time or if the economic context had been more favourable. The proof is: during the referendum on the adoption of a new Union Treaty in 1991, the majority of the Soviet population (except those of the Baltic States which were already independent at the time and those of a few Caucasus States) had voted for the maintenance of the Union.

However, it should be noted that the Soviet power was not the protector of the nationalities that it claimed to be. Soviet power has in fact exacerbated national tensions within the Union through its practice of power. In fact, the Communist Party very early on adopted an imperialist policy like that led by the Tsars during the 18th and 19th centuries. This Russification policy sought to make Russian culture superior to any other within the Empire. To reach the highest offices, to obtain the support of the party, to obtain budgets, it was necessary to speak Russian and to exalt Russian culture.

This political turn began as early as 1929 (the year of Stalin's strengthening of power) and had as its first target the Ukrainian and Belarusian nationalities (considered to be too independent and too advanced in their national construction, being therefore bourgeois counter-revolutionary elements). Thus when the famine of the early 1930s began, Stalin largely favored the salvation of the peoples of Russian culture to in fact exterminate the non-Russian peoples of the western part of the Union.

Then Stalin also resorted to mass deportations. Mainly targeted were nationalities with strong “separatist” potential or being too affiliated abroad (this was notably the case of the Koreans and the Germans). Thus Stalin was the craftsman of a true ethnic purge and a positioning of Russian culture as being the superior culture in a Union supposed to be separated from the Russian imperialism of yesteryear. This turning point became even clearer when Stalin gave his famous victory toast in 1945 when he exalted the Russian people as the great victors of the war. The imperialist turn was then fully assumed. Combined with this, we can also underline the importance of a vigorous anti-religious policy which notably prohibited the reading of the Qu'ran or the wearing of national or religious clothes.

The Soviet Union also instrumentalized national issues, crushing them internally but using them externally (this was particularly the case during the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in which the USSR was going to annex part of Poland in the name of the Ukrainian and Belarusian Republics). The USSR will also go so far as to have its 15 internal sub-divisions accepted as full members of the UN for national reasons, while internally a war of resistance was savagely crushed in the Baltic countries.

Stalin's successors tried to relax a little the iron grip that had befallen on the Nations of the USSR and to give back a little space to national cultures, but that did not prevent Brezhnev from declaring in the years 1970 that the USSR gave birth to a new people: a unique Soviet people. This unreal and hurtful statement involved in itself the use of a double standard because the minorities never benefited from the advantages devolved to the Russians while the crushing of their own cultures was justified by the fact that they were now “integrated ”.

We can therefore easily guess that for decades the anger was rising in the Republics and that in the end it only came to light when Gorbachev granted freedom of expression and that the constitutional institutions were finally able to play their role. .

We can therefore illustrate here that an authoritarian policy aimed at integrating different peoples can only lead to a nationalist reaction which results in the collapse of the centre, of the Union itself.

The European Union has done much better on this front. Indeed, the European Union does not seek to create a single European people and to impose one culture on all the others. “United in diversity” is a good strategy to continue to integrate at the top without creating national resistance. Although we see today that with the succession of crises there is all the same a tendency to national withdrawal within the Member States of the Union itself.

In any case the study of the fall of the USSR can be useful for the theory of disintegration which is emerging in the doctrine. It perfectly illustrates the fact that when a Union cannot fulfill its objectives and at the same time the populations cannot easily leave the system or even influence the system in a democratic way, they can choose the path of the complete disintegration of the Union. The question is obviously more complex than that and would need further development in the future, but a lesson is to be found in this authoritarian practice of Soviet power for future regional organizations.

In any case, what is interesting for our subject is the response that Gorbachev gave to national demands through attempts to reform the Union Treaty and the reorganization of the state.


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